Nebula Eligibility Updates and Story Notes

 

black-like-them

original illustration by Galen Dara

I’m awful, I know. I don’t every update this space with new developments in my life. I’d apologize but I know that none of you believe me and anyway it sucks when someone keeps apologizing and doesn’t change their behavior. Whoa. That got dark fast.

Anyway. Updates:

The Nebula Awards Suggested Reading List was made public last week, and a story of mine has been included in the Short Story category alongside some of the most poignant, thought provoking works of SFF produced this year, which is a wonder.

The story included is “Black Like Them,” originally published in Fireside Fiction Magazine in January 2017. It’s a story that tackles the complexity of black identity, and consumption of blackness–both black physicality and black cultural production–through the story surrounding the fallout behind a fictional experimental drug developed by two millennial graduate student scientists. The drug’s original function was that it would turn people black for a day, but when it malfunctions, it has more…lasting effects.

If you think that “Black Like Me” has done good work, and you are a member of SFWA who is eligible to nominate works to the Nebula Awards ballot, please drop my story a nomination. I’d greatly appreciate you.

What’s as–hell, maybe even more exciting for me is that a gang of stories from this upstart little mag called Fiyah Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction were added to the Recommended Reading List. How about that. Recommended in the Short Story category are:

  • Eden Royce – “Graverobbing Negress Seeks Employment” (Fiyah, Issue 2)
  • Brent Lambert – “Police Magic” (Fiyah, Issue 1)
  • Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali – “Talking to Cancer” (Fiyah, Issue 2)
  • Barbara Myers – “We Laugh In Its Face” (Fiyah, Issue 2)
  • Danny Lore – “The Last Exorcist” (Fiyah, Issue 3)
  • Malon Edwards – “Long Time Lurker, First Time Bomber” (Fiyah, Issue 1)

And in the Novelette Category:

  • Xen – “Cracks” (Fiyah, Issue 3)

The Recommended Reading List is linked above for everyone who wants to check it out. And all of these stories appear in the issues of Fiyah Magazine that we’ve published this year. Y’all pop on over to our website and pick up copies–I’ve listed and linked the issue numbers above so that you can grab whatever issue interests you.

One final thing: my fantasy short story “Sorrow and Joy, Sunshine and Rain” appears in the latest issue of Uncanny Magazine, Issue 19. It’ll be available for free online sometime next month. I promised on Twitter that I would write some short notes about this piece, and I do really want to talk about the genesis of this piece so if you would, stay and sit with me on this digital porch for a little while longer.

Let’s start with this: This story will inevitably be compared to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. I’ll say up front that I haven’t read American Gods since undergrad (over ten years past) and I’ve never seen even one episode of the show. I understand the comparisons but I do want to make clear that that show was in no way inspiration for this story. Though, I will let slip that one of the more major characters that appears toward the end of the tale is physically modeled on a black actor who happens to be enjoying a fantastic series of pop culture moments right now. His name sounds like “Shmashmershala Smhali”. 

Getting to the story itself, and what actually inspired me to write it.

The thing is that the idea of “American Gods,” just that kernel, is pretty spot on as far as my conceptualization of this story. Check out this tweet from N’Kosi Oates, which is a quote from Nikki Giovanni’s recent talk on her poetry collection A Good Cry: What We Learn From Tears and Laughter at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture: nkosi oates nikki giovanni tweet

This kind of thinking about the Middle Passage and the slave ship as a metaphysical conduit that distorted and destroyed the African mind/body/soul–not unlike the effects of the vacuum of space on a human body–is not new. Calvin Warren examines this idea of slave ship metaphysics and its effects on those imprisoned within in his essay “Black Time: Slavery, Metaphysics, and the Logic of Wellness”:

“What type of temporality sustains the black body in the slave ship? How do you orient yourself in time and space, especially when the journey could take months? Temporal domination is essential to slavery; it’s purpose is to disorient, objectify, and terrify.”

Thinking on that journey, starting with the numerous Doors of No Return, the actual time and anguish of the passage, the various ways that the journey could have ended (alighting in the “New World” on foreign shores, with a watery death, succumbing to disease, or, rarely, in mutiny and revolt and eventual freedom) got me thinking about faith, the prayers they prayed, and the gods they brought with them–gods that, ultimately, failed them. The slave ship, and all its attendant horrors, is a mighty test, enough to shake even the sternest faith. What if some of the slaves in that hold let loose those old gods? What if they created their own, new gods instead? What function would those gods serve? Would they be connected to the gods that those Africans brought with them? The middle passage was a culture-stripper, a homogenizing factor, but also a genesis. Could it have been the genesis of new deities? Would these gods provide new favor to new worshipers? And how would these gods be corrupted, having being born of such violence?

And on the flip side, I got to thinking about what kind of god the slavers might create? I mean, sure, they had those puritanical values, but what of a self-perpetuating god that was composed entirely of social algorithms, woven deep into the fabric of their culture, and maintained by the gears of progress, upheld by policy and political systems? This would be vengeful, capricious god, but a steady one all the same. How would other, older deities fare against this one?

So those are the philosophical questions that I wrestled with, and eventually, this story was born.

Fun fact: this story is a prequel, of sorts. I have another story out on sub right now which is set in a future of this world where the last remaining embers of divinity fight to hold on to their place in the world, and with their people, using human avatars that represent their ideals. That story isn’t nearly so highbrow, though. At it’s core, it’s a story about a woman’s quest to kill–and eat–a dragon.

Some of the other elements of “Sorrow and Joy, Sunshine and Rain” were just narrative things I wanted to play around with. Body horror, body snatching, taxonomies of divinity, all of these are things that I’m interested in on a macro level. While they have no place in my current novel-length WIP (it’s about “superheroes”), I’d love to play around with them again someday.

Support Uncanny if you can by purchasing an issue. Support Fiyah also by purchasing issues or subscriptions, which are now available. Vote and nominate and make sure that the stories that deserved to be recognized–which are not necessarily mine–get some shine.

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